All stats current through July 6.
With another half-season come and gone for baseball, the always-fun (and increasingly “counting”) All-Star break is upon us. That means hot dogs, beer, superstars, and home run contests are in full bloom, the latter being my favorite part. Home runs are probably the most fun thing in baseball to watch. If you disagree, compare your interest in the first five innings of a perfect game against a single grand-slam—and the Home Run Derby is specialization at its peak.
best most popular gather to play with a designated hitter in a National League park on Monday, the rules for the Home Run Derby have also changed. No longer do the participants need to be All-Stars. The new rules are playground rules, with no “last-to-be-picked” players. Think back to that classic episode of the Simpsons where Bart and Ralph were picking players for their pick-up game team, and Ralph was able to choose the likes of Jose Canseco and friends. This year, three American League boppers were picked by the 2010 home run derby winner, David Ortiz, while three National League sluggers were picked by the 2009 winner, Prince Fielder.
There’s little predictive “analysis” that can be done for the Home Run Derby. Anything can happen in a small sample, and crushing slow, dead-center change-ups is hardly the same as being able to accurately spot variable pitch-types with different breaks and unique speeds. There’s also that alleged Home Run Derby curse that Fielder broke in 2009.
Still, let’s break down some statistics of this year’s home run derby participants.
First, let’s look at the park. According to Katron.org, Chase Field’s dimensions are 328 feet to left, 407 feet to center field, and 335 feet to right. Both left-center and right-center are approximately 376 feet deep, with their deepest points being approximately 412 and 414 feet, respectively. According to the Bill James Handbook, Chase Field, relative to the other parks in the league, has boosted home run production by about four percent over the past several years.
The park has a slight handedness split, however. Right-handed hitters’ home run production is bolstered by only two percent, while lefties get a six percent boost. Not exactly the launching pad of its reputation, right? The park also has a neutral effect on home runs per outfield fly ball.
While we generally consider “the road” to be a neutral place overall, home parks, where players play half of their games each season, are hardly so. Park factors can substantially impact a player’s production. A place like Busch Stadium makes Albert Pujols‘ home run totals look that much more impressive, while new Yankee Stadium explains Robinson Cano‘s home run power breakout since 2009.
Courtesy of a cool tool by Katron.org, we can map each player’s home park batted ball data onto Chase Field and determine which hits would have been a home run had they been playing at Chase rather than their actual home park. Below is each contestant’s map, with the difference between the number of “would have been at Chase” home runs and “actual at home” home runs in parenthesis (darkest blue dots are actual home runs, the data up to date through the end of June):
Prince Fielder (10 versus 13)
Rickie Weeks (4 versus 7)
Matt Kemp (8 versus 9)
Matt Holliday (4 versus 5)
David Ortiz (1 versus 6)
Jose Bautista (14 versus 14)
Adrian Gonzalez (3 versus 6)
Robinson Cano (6 versus 10)
Interestingly, no one seems to gain from the move away from his current home park. While Gonzalez was the only player who would see a few of his “at home” non-homers to spacious non-Pesky Pole right field go out of the park, some of his high hits to left at Fenway, non-home runs at Chase, more than balance out that addition.
Next, let’s examine the general power numbers of each (sorted by AB/HR):
|Player||Team||Age||LHB/RHB?||#HR||AB/HR||HR/OFFB||2011 ISO||Career ISO||SLG%||xBH|
|Jose Bautista||Blue Jays||30||RHB||28||10.0||29.8%||0.356||0.225||0.687||43|
|David Ortiz||Red Sox||35||LHB||17||16.8||18.3%||0.263||0.262||0.565||40|
|Adrian Gonzalez||Red Sox||29||LHB||16||21.8||17.4%||0.236||0.224||0.583||47|
As you might be able to tell, the second basemen here seem to be the odd men out. While Weeks and Cano are certainly valuable hitters at a premium position, much of their power comes from non-home run extra base hits. Weeks and Cano represent the weakest home run hitters of the bunch, spacing out just over 23 at-bats in between their home runs. Their ISOs represent the lowest of the group, and they are the only players with a career ISO below .195. Kemp, with a career .198, is the only other player whose career ISO is under .200, while Weeks is the only player in the home run derby with a 2011 ISO under the .200 mark (and slugging percentage below .500).
Another thing you might notice about this list is that, with the exception of Ortiz, each player on this list is in his “prime.” The average age of the contestants is 29.5, with Kemp being the crop’s youngest player. There are no Justin Uptons (23), Jay Bruces (24) or Mike Stantons (21). There are no Lance Berkmans (35) or Paul Konerkos (35) either.
And as much as you might presume that the move to Fenway from Petco may have bolstered Gonzalez’s home run production, you might want to give that gut feeling a slight re-evaluation.
Finally, the advanced home run statistics of each, courtesy of Hit Tracker, starting with average true home run distance (measured in feet):
|Player||Avg True Dist.|
Average speed of home runs off of bat (mph):
|Player||Avg. Speed Off Bat|
And a breakdown of each player’s spray chart:
So who do you think is going to win the Home Run Derby this year? Are you taking popular pick (and my pick) Bautista, or some dark horse (and why)? As always, leave the love/hate in the comments section below.